Wed, Jun 10, 2009 - Page 8 News List

An open letter to Dr Jane Goodall

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲

DEAR DR GOODALL,

Welcome back to Taiwan, the Ilha Formosa, as the Portuguese called it in the 16th century as they passed what is now the site of our seventh and eighth nuclear power generators along the north and northeast coast.

I am sure that you must be aware of Taiwan’s magnificent biodiversity, and perhaps you also know that about 30 of the roughly 80 cetacean species in the world swim, or used to swim, in the waters around the island.

A small population of one of those species, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, has become a symbol of the severely unsustainable development of western Taiwan in recent years. Research since 2002 has shown that Taiwan’s population of humpback dolphins — which reside in the shallow, nearshore waters from Miaoli County to Tainan County and is distinct and isolated from other populations — numbers far fewer than 100 and is seriously threatened by numerous human activities. Based on these factors, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources listed the population as critically endangered in August last year.

The main threats are reduction of fresh water flow into estuaries; underwater noise; air and water pollution; habitat loss through land reclamation; and incidental bycatch in fishing equipment. The first four threats are directly related to development projects along and upstream of the west coast, while the last is related to the severe economic pressures brought upon fishermen by pollution of their fishing grounds and a drop in aquaculture production.

Of course, these threats affect not only the humpback dolphins but all life, including human, in western Taiwan and all those who eat food produced in western Taiwan. It is highly likely that some of the food you will be served during your stay was produced in the many contaminated fields and waters of western Taiwan.

Indeed, two of the world’s top five carbon dioxide-producing power plants are also located within the humpback dolphins’ habitat, and if expansion plans proceed, a third will be added to that list.

In response to campaigning by the Green Party and several of Taiwan’s environmental groups for these problems to be addressed, the Executive Yuan (the executive branch of the government) has made the Biodiversity Division of the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), which is hosting this year’s International Forum on Sustainable Development, responsible for coordinating an inter-agency government response to the environmental crisis along the west coast by addressing the threat to the survival of the humpback dolphins.

However, it is with disappointment that I have to inform you that the government’s response through the NCSD has been utterly empty and ineffective. Only two closed-door interdepartmental meetings have been held to discuss the situation since we started to directly petition the Executive Yuan for action in January last year, nearly one-and-a-half years ago. No action has resulted.

Even the designation of the dolphins’ “Major Wildlife Habitat” (or critical habitat) under the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法), which is within the powers of the Council of Agriculture, has still not been accomplished nor even debated, although the Biodiversity Division asked for habitat designation proposals at its first meeting on the humpback dolphins, as long ago as August last year. (Only non-governmental organizations responded to this request by submitting a detailed, scientifically based proposal.) A Conservation Action Plan for the humpback dolphins was produced even earlier, in September 2007, at an international workshop in Changhua, central Taiwan, but this has also been ignored.

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